Day 1 – Mono Pass Trailhead to 1 Mile South of Parker Pass

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Miles: 6

The three of us left San Francisco at 7:30am and arrived at the Yosemite National Park west entrance around 12:30.

With permits in hand, we drove to Tuolumne Meadows. The tourist season is over in Yosemite. The gear shop and gas station are closed (perhaps permanently) and the Post Office and general store building is being taken down.

Laurie had a great idea to leave our car at the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness permit office parking lot and hitchhike to the Mono Pass trailhead. This way we’d have a car when we finish our hike. She’s pretty smart!

We snacked/ate lunch as we assembled our bear boxes and were ready to hitch at 2:15pm.

Not having much luck for the first 10 minutes, we decided to make a sign. Five minutes later, Jeff, a climber from Utah stopped to give us a lift in his Subaru.

At 2:45pm, we were on the trail. The fresh air and gently graded trail were a welcoming treat.

We encountered snow as we turned toward Parker Pass. And the views really opened up. The snowy mountains add to beauty of the mountains.

At 5pm, we reached Parker Pass. We descended for maybe a half a mile and set up camp, leaving the very snowy Koip Pass for the next day.

The cold temps descended upon us quickly. After dinner, as the last of the light faded, we retired to our tents around 7:30om.


Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain – By BIke

Date of ride: August 5, 2015

Trip Details: 
    Distance:               49.7 miles
    Elevation gain:     8,268 ft
    Moving time:        5:44:49

The alarm sounds at 5am.

Who’s idea was this?

On this particular occasion, it was mine.

Of all the awe inspiring, challenging, heart pounding, and oxygen depriving activities we planned for our road trip, I had been looking forward to this ride the most.

I may not be a keen cyclist, but I’ve heard of this mountain. I’ve seen footage of Hill Climbs from years past. I’ve always wanted to visit this mountain. And when I found out it had been paved all the way to the summit, I knew I had to ride it!

After a successful summit of Mt. Evans a few days earlier, we felt more confident but still somewhat nervous about this ride.

Similar to Mt. Evans, today’s weather called for a 10% chance of rain.

At 7:44am, we left the public parking lot in the center of Manitou Springs and began pedaling. To get to the Pikes Peak Highway from Manitou Springs, you have to ride on Hwy 24. This highway is busy, yet biker friendly. There are “Share The Road” signs posted every few miles and most of the car and truck drivers were courteous.

Cars gave us tons of room and trucks switched lanes to pass us. After a 4.5 mile loud but uneventful ride on the highway we turned left toward the Pikes Peak Toll Road.

We couldn’t believe the grade of the road. Upwards of 10% for about a mile or so, where it started to level out near Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole.

A few pedal strokes past the Workshop is the Pikes Peak Toll Road entrance gate.

After paying the $12 per person entrance fee , we were on our way!

The first few miles of pavement is like butter. So smooth.

The road was busy, but not overly so.

Tourists from all over the U.S. and around the world zoomed by us – all of them giving us ample room.

Some of them shouted words of encouragement too. This boosted morale – especially when the going got tough later on.

The first couple of miles came easy. The grade wasn’t too bad, the weather was fabulous, the mountain air smelled great and the scenery was splendid.

We were making good time.

Half way up the Toll Road, we stopped at the Cafe to eat a bar (or two) and top off our bottles. I was loving this ride. Laurie though, was finding it challenging.

But with frequent stops, we kept on climbing.

I have many nicknames for Laurie. On the bike, one of them is The Grinder. Laurie is tenacious. She may not be the fastest rider, but she will get to the finish line. No. Matter. What.

After a few more miles, we were above 11,000ft. Soon after, we were above treeline too.

A long series of switchbacks past treeline lead to spectacular views of the highway and valley below.

What a road!

At the turnout above, we met super friendly motorcycle riders from Maine. They were in Colorado for a wedding, then off to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. I love how unique experiences can unite strangers. We were all riding the Pikes Peak Toll Road. We were all on two wheels. They had engines between their legs and we were the engines.

No matter. It was about the experience of the mountain. 

We knew the grade was going to be steeper for the second half of the ride. And coupled with less oxygen, we began to slow.

We knew we could do it.

We knew we could make it to the top.

But we had to set ourselves up for success. By constantly encouraging each other, playing music and taking frequent breaks, we were making great progress.

Scary grey clouds were starting to collect at the summit.

But we were so close.

One final push. That’s all we needed.

After a short break, we pedaled onward.

And a half hour later, we made it to the top of Pikes Peak!!

“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life” Laurie said once we reached the top.

While we both agree she was having an off day, this ain’t no easy bike ride. But it sure is beautiful.

After taking our celebratory pictures, we went inside to sample the highest doughnuts made in the world.

I was expecting big doughnuts of all flavors and theirs couldn’t be more different. Oh these expectations of ours, they can lead to such disappointments.

Honestly though, these doughnuts were so small and oh so bland. Not worth it.

We relaxed at the summit for what seemed to be an hour. We chatted with other riders, ate our bars and enjoyed the views.

When the Pikes Peak Cog Train arrived and hundreds of tourists disembarked, we left.

The downhill was fun but the views were very distracting. My goodness this mountain is pretty.

Going downhill really fast can be problematic because of the views, but slow cars can also hold you up. No matter though. We were really enjoying ourselves.

Just before reaching the Cafe, there is a break check station where cars must stop. We chose to stop too. The ranger thanked us for stopping and went on a rant about cyclists who constantly blaze past the checkpoint.

He promised to put in a good word for cyclists at the next meeting on account of us having played by the rules 🙂

The rest of the downhill run was fun and straightforward. There are a few bumpy sections but nothing too bad.

With two miles left to the entrance gate, we met up once gain with the bikers from Maine. They were enjoying their adventure as much as we were enjoying ours. We said our goodbyes and continued down the mountain.

Once back in Manitou Springs, we changed into our cotton clothes and went in search of lunch before heading home.

Our search didn’t last long. We chose to eat at the restaurant next to the parking lot called Heart of Jerusalem Cafe.

Notice the heart shaped felafels. Nice touch.

Great meal to cap off a great ride.

Tips for biking Pikes Peak:

Skip the ride from Manitou Springs to Cascade (the beginning of Pikes Peak Highway). The highway is loud and cars have a 55mph speed limit. It didn’t add to the scenery of the ride at all. If you want to pad your stats, then ride this portion too, but next time I’d bypass Manitou Springs and start my ride in Cascade, Colorado.

Figures suggest that the average grade of the Pikes Peak Toll Road is 6.5%. But this is misleading. For most of the miles on this road, you’re either going flat (or downhill in a few sections), or steeply uphill. It may average to 6.5% grade, but you won’t be riding that grade much.

Grand Tetons Part 1: Death Canyon – Alaska Basin Loop

Trip dates: Tuesday, July 28 – Thursday, July 30, 2015

Trip Details: 
Death Canyon – Alaska Basin Loop: 3 days, 26 miles
Seven am on a nippy Tuesday morning found Laurie asleep in the car as I scoped out to the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center. Only a handful of others were there, eagerly waiting for the Visitor Center to open. All of us had different itineraries. This put me at ease, slightly. 
We had no reservations but hoped to acquire permits for an overnight trip looping from Cascade Canyon to Paintbrush Canyon. Unfortunately those permits were all reserved, but we were able to get permits to enter from Death Canyon, camp in Alaska Basin – which is outside Grand Teton National Park – and exit Death Canyon via Death Canyon Shelf.
We drove the length of the bumpy dirt road to the trail head at Death Canyon. After a short 1.7 mile uphill walk, we enjoyed fantastic views of Phelps Lake. 
We chose to do this loop counter clockwise in order to do most of the climbing on our first day. Most backpackers may want to hike it clockwise but we enjoy big climbs right out of the gate. We can do this because fortunately we don’t require much acclimatization.
Day hiking Death Canyon to Buck mountain at 11,938 ft was quite popular. Many hiker were descending as we climbed higher and further into the majestic mountains. 
The weather couldn’t have been better either. We had partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the 60s to 70s. 

And the wildflowers. Oh my, the wildflowers. We were hiking through peak bloom! 

The hike up to Static Peak Divide was a long but gentle climb mostly shaded by trees.  We stopped for lunch near the Divide and enjoyed the jaw-dropping views. 

The wind had picked up and we were tired from a 12 hour, 800+ mile drive the day before, so we chose to forgo bagging Buck Mountain and descended toward Alaska Basin. The views on the other side of Static Peak Divide were equally magnificent. 
Camp for the night was near Mirror Lake. There are at least 4 designated campsites near the lake. About half a mile after the junction, there are more campsites near smaller bodies of water and streams. We set up camp in the trees, ate dinner by the lake soaking up the sunshine and went to bed before nightfall.

The next morning was a lazy one. Having to cover only 7 miles for the day, we enjoyed a long breakfast while allowing our tent to dry under the warm morning sunshine. Today promised big blue skies and warmer temperatures.
Around 10am we became stir crazy and were ready to get moving. We realized we had chosen a great camp spot after passing many backpackers on the other side of the lake. But the number of hikers didn’t matter because Alaska Basin is absolutely gorgeous. Thousands of wildflowers greeting us at every turn. 

The climb to Meek Pass was gentle and included many false summits along the way. This didn’t bother us much because Laurie and I agreed this was one of the most beautiful trails we have ever walked upon. The wildflowers, the gentle rolling trail and scenery were hard to beat. 

The miles came easy as we made our way down Death Canyon Shelf toward Fox Pass. The vistas  were tremendous. 

We dropped down into a bowl, escorted by wildflowers. Eventually we made our way into Death Canyon. Here one has to camp at designated and established campsites. We had our sights set on one such campsite near the eastern end perched high on flat boulders away from the trail. The campsites on the northern end had better views and less mosquitos but we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow and chose to make the following day as short as possible. 
We were glad with our decision because had we camped west of the group campsite, we would have had to hike through the overgrown trail the next morning. And odds are we would have been very wet from the brush.

Before entering Death Canyon we were warned by other hikers (but not rangers) of aggressive porcupines in the area that are attracted to salt. Flip flops and trekking pole handles were chew toys for these pesky critters. Although we didn’t see any, we were kept up most of the night by one making strange noises in the tree next to our tent. 
The next morning we felt groggy. Nevertheless we were up early and on the move before 7am. We had to hike back to Death Canyon Trailhead 5 miles away, get in our cars and drive to Jenny Lake Trailhead, where we would start our overnight loop through Cascade and Paintbrush Canyons.
The 5 mile hike to the trailhead from our campsite was easy, consisting of only one climb back up to Phelps Lake. There were more areas of the trail that were overgrown, but nothing that hampered our progress. We were hiking fast and on a mission to get to our car by 9am. At exactly 8:25am we reached the parking lot. Go us!
Tips for backpacking in the Tetons
  • Storing food in the car is considered proper bear storage. Bears don’t break into cars in the Tetons. 
  • There are no bear boxes at trailheads.
  • Designated camping only in established areas. The sites are well marked with signs and maps of the camping zones are available at the ranger station.
  • Peak season is last week of July.